Phowa (Tibetan: འཕོ་བ, Wylie: 'pho ba, Sanskrit: saṃkrānti[citation needed]) is a Vajrayana Buddhist meditation practice. It may be described as "the practice of conscious dying", "transference of consciousness at the time of death", "mindstream transference", or “enlightenment without meditation” (Wylie: ma-sgom sangs-rgyas). "This controversial esoteric technique (Skt.utkrānti), by which a tantric practitioner is able to sever his connection to the physical body, goes by the Indian reference to 'yogic' or spiritual suicide. It is attested in many Saiva scriptures, in one Vaisnava Samhita, and a handful of Sākta Tantras. It appears to be of non-Buddhist origin."[1]

The method can be applied at the moment of death to, according to Vajrayāna Buddhist belief, transfer one's consciousness through the top of the head directly into a Buddha-field of one's choice. By so doing, one bypasses some of the typical experiences that are said to occur after death.[2][citation needed] Example destinations are Sukhāvatī, Abhirati, Ghanavyūha, Aṭakāvatī, Mount Potala, the Copper-Colored Mountain (Wylie: Zangs-mdog dpal-ri), and Tuṣita;[3] the most popular in Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan Buddhism is Sukhavati.[citation needed] Phowa is also performed by specialists (Wylie: ’pho-’debs bla-ma) on the behalf of the deceased, as a post-mortem ritual. [4]

In the context of Western Buddhism, the practice of Phowa has become well known in two groups widespread in Europe and the Americas. In Rigpa, which was founded by Sogyal Rinpoche in 1979. Diamond Way Buddhism was founded in 1972 by Lama Ole Nydahl and Hannah Nydahl, offers intensive courses from a Nyngma transmission, in which the outer signs are achieved.[5]

Conversely, Phowa as a concept was cited by Shoko Asahara as a justification for murder in 1987. This fact was later brought up against him during his 1995 trial.[6]

The mark of a successful phowa practice is a small drop of blood directly from the center of the vertex.[clarification needed] To demonstrate a successful practice traditionally a Kusha-grass was pushed into the small opening created in the fontanel.[7][8]

The main lineage of phowa is one of the Six yogas of Naropa, although other transmissions also exist.[citation needed] The chöd subsumes within its auspices aspects of phowa sadhana.[9]

The Kagyu phowa lineage is from the Six yogas of Naropa. Nāropa received it from the Indian mahāsiddha Tilopa and later passed it to his Tibetan disciple Marpa.

Nāropa's teachings describe a second method of ’pho-ba that entails the transference of one’s consciousness to another body (Wylie: ’pho-ba grong-’jug). Milarepa's query regarding these teachings forced Marpa to search for explanatory treatises on the subject among his Indian manuscripts, and, having found none, to return to India to obtain more scriptures.[10]

The Drikung Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism is known for their phowa teachings. A major pilgrimage and cultural celebration is known in the Tibetan world as the Great Drikung Phowa (Wylie: ’Bri-gung ’pho-ba chen-mo). This festival was traditionally held once in every twelve-year calendrical cycle, and its last observance took place in August 1992 in gTer-sgrom, Central Tibet, after a hiatus of 36 years due to a ban enforced by the Chinese authorities.[11] Choeje Ayang Rinpoche from Eastern Tibet belongs to the Drikung school and is an authority on Buddhist afterlife rituals; he gives teachings and initiations to the practice of phowa annually in Bodh Gaya, India.[12]

Some lineages of phowa include a rite of incision, or opening of the sahasrara at the cranial zenith, to assist with transferral.[13]

Shugchang, et al., in an exegesis of the Zhitro, discuss phowa in Dzogchen:

Phowa has many different meanings; in Tibetan it means "transferring consciousness." The highest form is known as the phowa of the dharmakaya which is meditation on the great perfection. When you do Dzogchen meditation, there's no need to transfer anything, because there's nothing to transfer, no place to transfer it, nor anyone to do it. That's the highest, and greatest phowa practice.[14]

The Sanskrit tantric text Mālinīvijayottaratantra of the late first millennium CE[15] includes a chapter on yogic suicide.[16] The yogic practice may be as old at the Pātañjalayogaśāstra of Patañjali (325-425 CE[17]), where it appears to be mentioned in sūtra 3.39.[18]